The Internal Revenue Service is putting together its next Taxpayer Advocacy Panel to make the tax administration system more customer-oriented, but it's already contending with a growing chorus of people who want to see major changes in the agency, if not outright dismantlement.

In the past year, the IRS has been contending with calls from presidential candidates whose campaign rhetoric included demands for sweeping changes in tax policy and the agency tasked with administering them.

While the IRS said it's looking for "interested civic-minded individuals" to help improve the agency, it's also bracing for a protest outside its headquarters in Washington this week by peace groups who plan to mark the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Indeed the IRS has faced protests on both ends of the political spectrum lately so it is again reaching out for advice from people who are willing to work with the agency on making more modest changes.

The mission of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel is to listen to taxpayers, identify their main concerns and make recommendations for improving service and customer satisfaction. The panel reports annually to the Treasury Department, the IRS and the National Taxpayer Advocate, who issued a stinging report in January outlining a host of issues with the service. In testimony before Congress last week, Nina Olson talked about one of these recommendations, calling for elimination of the IRS's private debt collection program, which has fallen far short of its goals. But that's just one of many issues causing concerns among taxpayers and Congress alike.

The Senate has approved a new commissioner, Douglas Shulman, to run the IRS. He will have to deal with many of the issues causing the grumbling, along with myriad recommendations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Government Accountability Office, Congressional panels and other interested parties.

Accountants and tax preparers should also have a say in the process. To qualify as a Taxpayer Advocacy Panel member, all applicants must be U.S. citizens and be able to commit 300 to 500 hours over the course of the year to the panel. Understandably, they also need to be current with their tax obligations and pass a criminal background check. To apply, you can complete and submit an application online at www.improveirs.org. The deadline is April 30, 2008.

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